American Water Spaniel

"The State Dog of Wisconsin"

Photo of American Water Spaniel


A true Midwesterner, the American Water Spaniel first appeared around the Wolf and Fox River valleys of Wisconsin. Most breed historians point to the Irish Water Spaniel and Tweed Water Spaniel as probable ancestors, with perhaps some help from the English Water Spaniel and Curly-Coated Retriever. Some theories even credit the American Indians of the Great Lakes as the breed's creators. The truth is, nobody knows for sure where this small spaniel with the waterproof coat and keen nose came from, but by 1870, the American Brown Water Spaniel, as he was often called, was established in the Midwest as a versatile hunter that could find, flush, and retrieve birds with uncanny ability. The American Water Spaniel excelled in the Great Lakes region, hunting waterfowl and small mammals in thick mucky marshland and cold water. Dog shows? American Water Spaniel fanciers didn't have the time. They were too busy hunting with their dogs to bother with such indoor activities, but in 1920, one American Water Spaniel was registered with the United Kennel Club, and by 1940, the American Kennel Club had one on the books, too. Even today, while you can still see them at dog shows now and then, the true fans of this little brown dynamo remain in the field, and often do not register their dogs. Today, the American Water Spaniel ranks as the 133rdmost popular breed, but that's registered dogs. It's anybody's guess how many are really out there, busily chasing rabbits and retrieving ducks - it's that good ole' Midwestern work ethic.


Energetic and playful, the American Water Spaniel loves kids and makes a great companion for active people. They enjoy investigating, running, hunting, fetching, and swimming. This sporting breed likes to keep moving and needs lots of exercise, but isn't as gregarious as more familiar spaniels like Springers and Brittanys. The American Water Spaniel takes a while to warm up to new people and strange dogs, and is more of a one-family dog who would rather wait and see than rush in to make friends. Also more sensitive than some sporting breeds, the American Water Spaniel has a high desire to please and gets easily crushed by harsh words or rough treatment. And when he's unhappy, you'll hear about it - American Water Spaniels tend to whine and bark to express their feelings. Sound-sensitive pet owners need not apply.


A medium-sized dog, slightly longer than tall, the American Water Spaniel may be liver, brown, or dark chocolate. They have a wavy coat ranging in texture from uniform waves to close curls, with especially long hair on the ears. The rounded eyes should harmonize with the coat color and the long tail should curve slightly, carried near the level of the back.


An enthusiastic learner who can get easily distracted during training, the American Water Spaniel does best when motivated by treats or by fetching games rather than force. Bullying is especially counterproductive because of this breed's sensitive, even timid, nature. Early socialization goes a long way to making them more confident around strangers, and is especially important for this breed. With the right attitude and a gentle hand, the motivated owner can even get American Water Spaniels to perform advanced obedience exercises, but frankly, he would probably be happier if you just chucked all the drilling and took him duck hunting.

Grooming & Care

That curly coat has an oily texture, which is good for repelling water, but not so good for the grooming-challenged. Even though American Water Spaniels don't leave shed hair around the house, they still need to be brushed at least once or twice a week to prevent matting and encourage good skin circulation. They may also need a monthly bath to keep clean and sweet-smelling. Check those long ears for wetness and irritation regularly. Brush teeth daily and trim nails every week or two. Some Water Spaniels drool or drip water after drinking, so keep a drool rag handy - immaculate housekeepers, you've been warned. To stay healthy and fit, American Water Spaniels need an hour of vigorous exercise every day, in the form of running, swimming, hunting, or backyard games, especially fetch.

Health Concerns

The American Water Spaniel's biggest health concern is mitral valve disease of the heart. Two other cardiac-related problems, pulmonic stenosis and patent ductus arteriosis, are also of some concern, as is hip dysplasia. Ask your breeder about these issues.

Famous American Water Spaniel

The most famous AWS of all was that first registered one, Pfiefer's own dog named Curly Pfiefer.

Ideal Owner
Activity Level Active
Schedule Full-time (but no overtime)
Personal Style Easygoing and casual, Outdoorsy
Training Style Consistent, Creative and fun
Home Fenced yard or access to one
Children Any age is fine
Experience Not necessary
Quick Facts
Size Small, Medium
Grooming Easy to care for - brush weekly
Exercise High - needs to walk every day, plus some running and play
Training Eager to please, Needs daily practice
Temperment Friendly, Enthusiastic
Challenges Needs to spend time outside, preferably swimming
Height 15 to 18 inches
Weight 25 to 45 pounds
Life 11 to 12 years
Home Alone Fine with lots of exercise first
With Kids Excellent
With Strangers Wary
Availability Rare and may have a waiting list

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